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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 458

Senator DURACK(8.16) —The Opposition is opposed to the motion moved by the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) to adjourn this debate to the next day of sitting. I accordingly move the following amendment:

Leave out `the next day of sitting', insert `a later hour of the day.'.

The role of the Government in this matter is nothing short of disgraceful. This statement by the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) was put down in the other place last Friday afternoon. The House of Representatives devoted most of Friday to this matter, other than for ordinary business, with 11 speakers participating. The matter was then adjourned until today and it is on the Notice Paper of the House of Representatives for further debate today.

The Government brought this matter on for debate in the Senate today and has now gagged the debate, I think after less than an hour, and after only four speakers, including one Australian Democrat. The Democrats' performance in this matter is even more disgraceful than that of the Government. The Democrats, now abandoned under their present wimpish leader, Senator Haines, have sold out lock, stock and barrel to the Government. Having had a speaker in this debate they have decided to co-operate totally with the Government's wishes to bring an end to this debate in the Senate. Why would the Senate, as a House of review, be accorded far less time to debate this vital question than the House of Representatives? That is what the new Manager of Government Business in the Senate (Senator Gareth Evans) has done. We know about his management capacities. His only management experience was running an undergraduate course for law students, and here he is now presented as the Manager of Government Business. We now have the first test of his capacity as the Manager of Government Business; that is his capacity to steamroll and railroad the Senate into submission according to his will. That is his conception of how to run anything. It is certainly quite beyond his capacity to run the Senate.

This defence statement by Mr Beazley deals with some minor upgrading of the Government's defence initiatives in the South Pacific. It raises questions of vital importance to Australia's defence and, indeed, to its foreign policy. As has already been indicated in the debate, this matter is of most serious moment. The Senate should be debating matters of this kind. Presumably Senator Evans wants to proceed with Government Business, which involves some amendments to important legislation no doubt, but nothing of any great urgency. So he is now seeking to abandon a debate about this nation's future defence capacity, its future allies and its future defence arrangements in a region that is totally adjacent to Australia.

As I have said, the debate has been concluded in less than an hour in this place, and with no real assurance that the matter will ever be brought back for debate in this session. For those reasons alone I have moved the amendment to enable this debate to proceed later this day. There is no reason why other urgent business of the Government should take precedence over this matter for the next two hours tonight. Even at this stage the Government should think again and resume the debate on this particularly vital and important subject without further delay.

The motion moved by Senator Evans is designed to shunt this subject off. There is no likelihood or guarantee that there will be any further debate on the subject this session. We should be able to resume this debate tonight and continue it, if necessary, tomorrow. As I have said, already the House of Representatives spent most of Friday debating it. There were 11 speakers. The debate is being continued in the House of Representatives today. The Senate should not be denied the same opportunity as has been accorded by the Government to the House of Representatives. I know that, for instance, Senator Harradine was very anxious to speak in this debate. There are a number of speakers on this side of the House who wish to contribute. We know perfectly well that senators on the government side are prepared to go along with the Government, to shut up and not contribute anything further. One of them, Senator McIntosh, spoke very effectively and quite adequately for about five or seven minutes. There is no reason why this debate should not continue with some self-restraint on the part of Government senators in particular. Presumably the Australian Democrats have now decided that, one of their number having made a minor contribution to this debate, the other five of them do not want to say anything and they want to deny the rights of other senators to speak on this vital matter. In order to accommodate the wishes of the Senate, as I have said, I have moved that the debate on this matter be resumed at a later hour this day. I trust that the Government will accommodate the Senate and enable that to take place.